I think presentation is essential. Therefore, I ask that my students do it frequently and the stress is lessened. All students are also rewarded with a single clap of respect from the entire class after every presentation, 1, 2, 3, *clap*. It’s just part of my expectations. However, I have provided accommodations for students gripped with fear. Accommodations have included, presentation in a seated position instead of standing in front of the class, written work read by another student on behalf of the shy student, small group instead of full class presentations, recorded at home and sent in presentations, and fully excused presentations as part of an identifiable medical disability. Any clearly seen accommodations like this are often accompanied with a class discussion about different abilities with fear and presenting – as well as why learning to talk in front of the group is important.
LESSON ONE: COMMAND WORDS
LEARNING TARGET: To understand different levels of presenting information (fact,analysis, and synthesis) and apply them to command words in test questions.
Bell Ringer/pre-assessment: Students respond in writing to question for one minute, then share out ideas:
What is the difference between the presentation of facts, the development of analysis, and a synthesis of ideas?
(Gather learner friendly responses)
Practice one: Students Take ten minutes to answer the following questions, writing independently
Explore the ways… with three examples that the story of “The Three Pigs” tells the reader about theme of hard work.
How… does “The Three Pigs” tell the reader about the theme of hard work through the plot?
How far does… the story tell the reader that hard work is important? Cite evidence from the plot that is in favor and against.
In what ways… using three examples does “The Three Pigs” support the main idea of hard work through character development?
To what extent… do you agree that “The Three Pigs” is about the theme of hard work? Provide three pieces of evidence from the text that support one or both sides of your position.
Supporting Activity- Small Groups: Student compare their responses with each other in a small group setting.
Questions for conversation: What was different about your responses?
What was similar about your responses?
What was different about the questions?
What was similar about the questions?
Extension Activity- Individual / Full Group: Students respond to the following question, first in a “five-minute” quick write and then share their responses in a class conversation.
If the question was not about hard work or “The Three Pigs” and instead about a different theme or story, what would be different or the same about your response? How do the command words (how, how far, In what ways, To what extent, Explore the ways) connect to the way you respond? Which questions are asking for facts? Which questions are asking for analysis? Which questions are asking for synthesis?
Extension Practice, Formative Assessment:
Write five questions using the same command words for a book that you have already read.
Memorization is a key skill in theatre and in life – but some kids need more or less support. Sometimes it even depends on their ability level. In my experience one point for each word becomes tricky – different students have different word counts and different memorization challenges in a particular script. Instead, I look at levels of memorization. It helps me direct student support for follow up.
Here is a general rubric that I like to use:
“Top Marks” – 10 points for being Word Perfect
“Job Done” – 7-9 points for being basically word perfect. Maybe some transposition of words or dropped words. Perhaps a missed sentence (depending on length).
“Support Needed” 4 – 6 points, student missed more than a sentence, called for line or looked at script (1 – 3 times).
“Significant Revision Required” – 1-3 points for being unable to complete memorization or in need of more than three prompts.
I’ll assign a Student AD or SM to make notes on any missing or incorrect words by highlighting a revision script for the actors or by making line notes specifically for each actor.
Additionally, it is important to:
- Give students memorization tools before giving them a memorization assignment (or make sure they have experience with memorization).
- Tools include: writing and re-writing the lines by hand (speaking aloud while re-writing can also be helpful)
- Writing cue lines on one side of an index card and the full line on the other side. Students can study like flash cards. Again, speaking aloud is preferred.
- Memorizing line by line or sentence by sentence in what I call the A, AB, BC, CD, method so that what has been memorized gets linked to what will be memorized and the text is evenly memorized throughout.
- Physical cues within text. Students can connect physical action such as blocking or character gesture to pieces of text. These gestures are fully implemented as part of performance whenever possible.
- Sound cues in text. It helps students to use auditory clues such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhyming, and rhythm to memorize a text. Sometimes it takes a study of these poetic elements to cue into the memorization.
- Memorization to a song. Use an established song melody and fit the spoken words to that song. Play the song again and again.
- Give students ample time to memorize their texts and scaffold the memorization so that it is not all due at one time. I often tie memorization deadlines to the rehearsal following completion of blocking for a scene. (Alternating in sets of four for rehearsal: 1) Table read and discussion of scene; 2) Blocking of scene, on book; 3) run of scene memorized blocking and lines; 4) working of the scene, “stop, work, fix, go”.
Does acting in acting class need to be authentic to the student? I recently came across this question in a professional forum.
Certainly authenticity is good – especially in theatre. It is a creative process; the product is best when it is personal to the actor. However – I contend that this may only be the desired end product.
A novice actor needs skills to build from – guidance even clear direction to develop with. Ready, set, create… GO! Open ended creation can be difficult. Giving a student a framework, blocking, gesture, vocal placement, clear direction is not only good teaching, it is a real-world occurrence. In doing so, the teacher is supporting the skill level of the student and scaffolding from that point forward. Yes in theatre education, there should equally be as many opportunities to collaborate, devise, and create in an open-ended forum. These are key skills that theatre can main-line to the student; these later skills, require a prerequisite of experience to build from.
Consider instruction in English Language Arts. In middle school and high school, writing instruction is often prescribed. A teacher may say, “use these sign post words” or “use a first person voice”; they may further say submit your paper in 12 pt font and MLA format. And in the execution of that prescription, the student learns the structure, the form, the style required and then can learn to write in that mode authentically. But, their first prescribed may not be authentic to the student.
I contend that the instruction of an acting student does not need to be much different. I am curious to see what other teachers of theatre may think on this point.
This approach of prescribed movements and highly directed or choreographed work could also be described as an “outside-in” style of acting. Physically based styles are widely used around the world. Included in this would be the Lazzo of the Fly from Commedia and the stylized movement and voice of Kabuki. Here are some examples.
You can see in the Lazzo, the movements are very planned, even choreographed in response to the music.
Here you can see an example of a planned combat scene in Kabuki. It has been done in this exact prescribed style for the past 400 years.
After ten years at Explorer West, in Seattle, I transitioned my teaching career in one of the most drastic ways possible. I left a secure teaching position – one where I knew the ins and outs of each day – one where I knew the faculty and the community exceptionally well – and I took a position at a growing school in Casablanca Morocco.
My teaching was tested. I was tasked with setting up a new program in a school that was still finding its way in secondary education. A growing middle school program was my first charge; teaching new content and new lessons my second. Three content classes at three different levels made for six different preps and plans. Plus I had an additional course in advisory and community service. The program was growing. I was the only teacher dedicated to the secondary program. We lacked a math/science teacher. The position was filled by the Head of School while a search was under way.
It took an entire term to find the replacement. The first term we were metaphorically treading water. We were making the best choices we could to keep the program going. We wanted to create a community that was student driven – empowering students in a community that fostered intrinsic learning. But the challenges of building a secondary program from the ground up was tremendous.
The work changed when a math/science teacher was hired and collaboration could truly begin.
At the heart of great teaching is differentiation; this teaching tactic of differentiation inside of the teaching content area applies to language acquisition, stages of language, and academic language development; this work will help students across multiple content areas (P2).
In researching this teaching topic area, I reflected on two effective techniques for teaching academic language through a differentiated approach.
FIRST: Three Tiers of Words for Differentiated Instruction
- Tier One includes vocabulary that the student already knows; teaching these words will help the student activate their prior knowledge.
- Tier Two words are important over many years in many disciplines both your own and others; examples include parallel, theme, and base; teaching these words will help students make connections to ideas outside of the content and reinforce the meaning in the content.
- Tier Three words are technical with narrow definition; these words should be taught for the lesson and looked up for further clarity; a student will engage the text at an analytical level.
SECOND: Three Levels of Reading for increased meaning and differentiated instruction
- Level One, read for general understanding (identify words in all three tiers)
- Level Two, making personal connections to other content areas
- Level Three, extending the text to connect and converse with other texts
Breaking the academic words into these three tiers allows both the teacher and the students to strategically approach the task of learning. By emphasizing the vocabulary early in the process of learning it can be reinforced at every step of the lesson.
In pre-reading students can identify words across tiers and note their meanings.
In connecting to personal experiences, a second stage of effective reading, students can connect their experiences of each word (especially Tier Two Words) in other classes to the text that they are examining and use the Tier One Words, words they already know, to build their knowledge and connection to the new text.
Finally as a student reads for deeper meaning, they are ready to ask bigger questions about the words and their interconnected meanings. By engaging in a process of inter-textuality, they will solidify the understanding and be able to comment on the text in relationship to other texts they have read.
Academic words in all three areas continually emerge in both Theatre Arts and English Language arts because both content areas examine texts from multiple sources with multiple narratives. I often tell my students that my class is not simply a drama class. Rather, my class is every class in the disguise of a drama class. Students must be prepared to speak about any topic that they know about. Because of this, they build their understanding of both of the first two tiers. Some common examples of these words are: inner-monologue, character development, and memorization.
The third tier words are then used most commonly through the language demand and are particular to the performance assignment. One simple example would be, blocking (the specific movement of actors on the stage).
Because of my research into the three tiers of academic language and three common phases of reading, my instruction has changed. I am more apt to point out academic words that make a connection between subjects and encourage students to read a text three times for increased clarity and deeper meaning. With each reading of the text I can guide the student by suggesting that they look for general understanding on their first time through a text, connections between the text and other subjects on their second read, and the conversation between one text and another in their third reading.
By using this three tier and three read through strategy, students are more likely to fully understand and personalize the text. Because a central practice of Theatre Arts is personalization and finding increased meaning, these strategies are invaluable to the students (and to myself). Further, different students will be reading at different levels. Knowing which level a reader is working on will allow myself to differentiate my instruction for that student.
One consequence of using this technique is lost time. It will take students three-times longer to complete any reading assignment. Because of this, reading assignments must be both shortened and be given in class time for guided completion. However, the benefits will outweigh the cost. Students will generate more connections inside of my content area and in content areas outside of my classroom.
Expect Diversity in Teaching:
A Collection of Personal Stories and Reflections from Teaching that Mirror Multicultural Research
The parent of a former student of mine told me the following story. This story has had me thinking about my bias, as both a teacher and as a parent, for the past decade.
I think about this story often. How would I have reacted to the same situation? I want to raise my children without racial bias. I want to teach my children that the world is filled with good people that have a multitude of identities. I want my children to know that it is the diversity in the world that makes our world great. But, I understand that my bias (both inherited and developed) can come out in the most unexpected moments.
Returning to the story about the dinner guest, Ernie, I should tell the rest of the story because I wonder how I would have reacted. What if I was that father, standing there with my daughter? What if my friend ended the conversation there, turned and walked away in disgust? I would have ran after him and not been there for the rest of the story.
This former student of mine expected diversity. She expected Ernie to be orange. It was the bias of her father – and my bias hearing the story for the first time – that anticipated a social problem because of Ernie’s racial identity. I should expect diversity in my classroom too.
Banks, C.A.M. (1996). Intellectual Leadership and the Influence of Early African American Scholars on Multicultural Education. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 46-63). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Hillis, M. R. (1996). Allison Davis and the Study of Race, Social Class, and Schooling. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 115 – 128). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Howard, G. (1996) Whites in Mulitcultural Education: Rethinking Our Role. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 323 – 334). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
McIntosh, P. (2008) White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. In A.V. Kesselman, L. D. McNair, and N. Schniedewind (Ed.), Women; Images and Realities: A Multicultural Anthology (pp 388 – 392). New York: McGraw-Hill Companies.
Mvududu, N. (Director) (2015, May 1). Class Lectures. Diversity in America, Spring Quarter. Lecture conducted from Seattle Pacific University, Seattle.
There is great controversy in the world of theatre when it comes to casting. Analogous to this is the classroom task of putting on a play. The philosophical question is the same. Does the actor need to match the part? In other words, do you need an actor that is black to play Martin Luther King Jr.; do you need an actor that is Italian to play Romeo; are there times when you must pay attention to the diversity that the actor brings to the part and other times that it does not and should not matter? At least in the professional theatre there is a larger pool of actors, however, the pool of actors, like the classroom, is limited to the people that show up.
With children, it is even more of a challenge. Nearly every part in mainstream plays are not for children. Many parts that they are asked to play are adults. There are not many plays written for kids; the plays that are written for kids are often lacking in content with a simplified script. The content that I want to teach, and the content that my students are ready for, does not exist in a simplified script that is written for kids.
I have developed several instructional strategies to manage this problem. I let students shape their own narrative by literally writing the script that they want to work on. This eliminates any issues of adapting outside content to my students. I encourage them to work with the stories that they know based on their own personal experience. By doing this, I get a wide range of stories. From these stories, I select an evening of varied performances. One of my favorite plays ever written by one of my students was half in English and half in Spanish. Few of my students speak Spanish. However, the play was excellent and deserved to be produced. The entire class had to learn, memorize, and personalize the text written in Spanish. When students asked the inevitable question of, “Why do we have to do this?” I responded, “because it teaches you about the world around you; this came from your colleague and from your community; not everything needs to be easy and comfortable for you.” I can have this response because I know that every student, regardless of their comfort level with the material, will still be treated with respect; also, I had my eyes opened because of a play that I had to work on with a context that was not comfortable for me.
When it comes to casting, I generally practice what is known as color-blind-casting. Rarely do I have a play presented that mandates an actor with a particular trait. I always have actors that are between the ages of 10 and 14; I do not always have characters in my plays with the same age rage. Further it would be educationally irresponsible of me to cast a student, based on skills and abilities in a part that they were not ready to play or achieve in the context of the project. I have seen far too many productions that featured an actor, with an obvious diverse trait, that was not able to perform in that part.
One prominent example of this was several years ago. I was invited to watch a production of Grease. As it happens, this was for a summer camp and most of the people that had signed up for the camp were girls. The director cast one of the few boys in the production as Danny, the male lead and romantic attraction for Sandy. The girl that was cast was about 14 years old; the boy was about 8. There was agony for the entire play. Much of the plot revolves around the relationship between these two characters. The director was unwilling to reimagine the casting and make Danny female or cast a female actor in a male part. The show was a tragedy and there were plenty of female actors that could have performed in the part of Danny excellently.
Casting should be based on ability and in an educational setting that can get tricky because of our diverse society and the history that we all carry with us. However, there are plays that mandate an actor with a particular trait that cannot be faked. If I had a play that was specifically about black character, I would have to cast a black actor. Without this I would be risking community outrage or worse yet my decision would go unnoticed and another minority person would be overlooked because the homogenized white culture had absorbed them.
Lacking that black actor, I would not be able to perform the script; or, I could discuss the script with my students and identify the challenge and create dialogue about the production. But, that is about as far as it could go. Even though there are many movies where ethnicities are faked and an ethnically ambiguous actor plays a range of characters from different cultures, I do not think that I should participate in the problem. I have learned that when it comes to casting (and to teaching for that matter), I must be flexible and adapt to both the script and the classroom pool of actors that I have.
When it comes to student assessment, I can adapt to each student in the classroom. I use a rubric that is based on skills rather than student interpretation. This allows the personalization of a text to come to the performance. The powerful thing about theatre is that it can, and should, change with each performance and each performer. One interpretation should be different from the next.
Lastly, so that all students have a sense of belonging, I have only three rules for my content area. Respect yourself; respect others; respect the space around you. I ask students on the first day of class what these things mean. I ask them to give examples of respect. This is one value that is universal. However, the way respect is shown changes from one year to the next. Students must participate in the shaping of the classroom culture. Doing this sets the tone for everything else; teaching is a partnership between the students and the teacher, it cannot be done in a homogenous melting pot. Rather, the partnership is formed anew with each new class in a new and beautiful way.
 Color-blind-casting is term that started with the idea that any actor of any skin color should be allowed to play any part. However, the term now applies to other identifiers such as, gender, physical ability, and age.
 Interpretation is one of the largest areas of bias an artist can have. As one who identifies as an artist, I recognize this and allow my students to express themselves through their bias and not my own.
 It is interesting to note though, this idea that performances change by the day is held primarily in Western Culture. In Kabuki, a Japanese form of theater the performance is passed on exactly from one master to one apprentice. This has preserved the art form for the past 400 years so that a performance today is nearly the same as it was when the art form first started.
Collaboration within the school community can be an effective way to reach students across content areas and to help create new and renewed engagement for students and teachers; to do this teachers must collaborate across content areas and use appropriate communication to do so.
My most recent collaboration with a teacher outside of my subject area is an improvisation and health project. In the project, students must investigate and research health issues that are relevant to their lives and then use that research to build a character in drama. The characters then come together for a “community meeting” and discuss the issues of relevance in their improvised lives.
This project started with student research; this research was summed up in a inter-disciplinary meeting that shared the outcomes across content areas between drama and health. These pictures represent the research compiled by the students.
This information, generated by the students, was then summed up and shared with all the participating teachers so that it could be used in three ways. First, by using the foundational knowledge the health teacher is able to bring additional resources to the students so that their information that they use in drama can be more substantial.
Second, the students generate characters in an improvisational-based format that utilizes all of the research and gathered information. Based on the content from health class, students must create a back-story for their characters, character objectives and relationships, and character traits such as vocal and physical patterns.
Lastly, this information, in addition to the work in class and the additional research in health class, is used to create a joint rubric. Students will receive a single summative evaluation that addresses their learning in both classes.
Every piece of written information is shared via Google drive so that both of the associated teachers can easily add and adjust content as the unit progresses.
This project exemplifies collaboration within the school because it is a unit that has and will continue to grow together. It allows students to combine their knowledge across content areas; this project further demonstrates this standard because it requires both of the collaborating teachers to communicate professionally in both written and verbal forms.
In summary, this project created a powerful effect on my students. They reported that the best aspect of the project was the integration of multiple subjects. Placing the health content in an improvisational format allowed them to explore the issues in both meaningful and personal ways. Further, this project created an excellent template (in both communication and lesson planning) for collaborations that I am sure will follow between the health teacher, other teachers, and myself.
In future iterations of this project, I will be sure to communicate with other teachers earlier in the year. While we had ample time to complete the project, the planning late in the year gave us undesirable timing when it came to the shared class time for the initial collaboration and the community meeting that the students jointly participated in.